WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Donald Trump does not have immunity from criminal charges for his actions as president, a U.S. judge ruled on Friday, rejecting his attempt to dismiss the case by special prosecutor Jack Smith, accusing him of unlawfully attempting. to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan found no legal basis to conclude that presidents cannot face criminal charges once they are no longer in office. Trump, favored for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 US election, served from 2017 to 2021.
“Whatever immunities a sitting president may enjoy, the United States has only one chief executive at a time, and that position does not confer a lifetime pass to ‘get out of prison,'” Chutkan wrote in his decision.
Because Trump is the first U.S. president or former president to face criminal charges, Chutkan’s ruling is the first by a U.S. court to affirm that presidents can be charged with crimes like any other citizen.
The judge also rejected Trump’s argument that the charges violated his free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Trump’s lawyers argued that the Smith case “attempts to criminalize basic political speech and political advocacy.”
Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, declined to comment on the decision.
Chutkan’s decision moves Trump closer to facing a jury over accusations that he conspired to interfere with the counting of electoral votes and obstruct Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory. Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of trying to damage his campaign.
The trial is expected to begin in March. Trump can immediately appeal the decision, which could potentially delay the trial while an appeals court and potentially the Supreme Court weigh the issue.
Trump has other pending legal motions to dismiss the case based on other allegations, including that his conduct, as prosecutors allege, does not match the charges they brought. In addition to the case pursued by Smith, Trump also faces criminal charges in Georgia related to his actions to overturn his 2020 defeat and two other indictments. He also pleaded not guilty in those cases.
The U.S. Justice Department has long had an internal policy not to indict a sitting president, but prosecutors have said no such restrictions exist once a president leaves the White House.
Trump’s lawyers have widely argued that he is “absolutely immune” from charges arising from official actions he took as president, arguing that political opponents could use the threat of criminal prosecution to interfere with Trump’s responsibilities. ‘a president.
His defense team argued that the immunity enjoyed by U.S. presidents from civil suits should extend to criminal charges.
Prosecutors argued that Trump’s argument would essentially place the U.S. president above the law, violating fundamental principles of the Constitution.
Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis
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